The cowbell may forever be associated with Will Ferrell gyrating in an undersized T-shirt, but lets not forget its other valuable musical contributions. Below are 8 modern tracks that kill it with cowbell.
1. Radiohead – Electioneering: One of Radiohead’s heaviest songs to date. Thanks to their liberal use of cowbell, thrilling guitar solos and Thom Yorke’s untouchable vocal swagger, it’s also one of their most fun.
2. The Rapture – House of Jealous Lovers: Widely credited as the song that made it okay for hipsters to dance again. Now over a decade old, House of Jealous Lovers feels as groovy and immediate as ever. If there’s any argument to me made for cowbell in dance music, this is it.
3. Cake – Short Skirt/Long Jacket: With its sarcastic, half-sung vocals, self-indulgent instrumentation (listen close for the vibraslap) and undeniable pop sensibility, Short Skirt/Long Jacket is a song that only Cake could have recorded. Catchy and bizarre in all the right ways, it is undoubtedly a career highlight.
4. LCD Soundsystem – Daft Punk is Playing at My House: James Murphy’s penchant for cowbell is, by now, well documented—see: North American Scum for another example of his career-spanning love affair with the instrument—but who’s complaining? Nobody does a 30 second two-note cowbell solo better.
5. Hot Hot Heat – Talk To Me, Dance With Me: With it’s slinky riffs, urgent vocals (courtesy of noted Carrot Top look-alike, Steve Bays), and flagrant display of cowbelling, Talk To Me, Dance With Me became a solid hit for the British Columbian four piece in 2003. 10 years on, it’s still pretty catchy.
6. Queens of the Stone Age – Little Sister: It may sound like a cowbell, but that’s actually ‘jam block’—a modern staple of latin percussion—driving the verses. We’re willing to give them a pass however for having Ferrell—as Gene Frenkel—perform cowbell duties with them on stage during their 2005 visit to SNL.
7. MGMT – Your Life is a Lie: While most tracks on this list employ cowbell in an auxiliary role, Your Life is a Lie uses it differently–as way to punctuate the track’s soul-crushing, nihilistic thesis statement: life is pointless.
8. Handsome Family – Far From Any Road: You might not recognize the name, but if you’re a fan of True Detective, you definitely know the tune. Performed by murder-balladeers Handsome Family, Far From Any Road is the haunting, bayou-stomper that kicks off each episode of the acclaimed HBO series.
Honourable Mentions: Death From Above 1979 – Black History Month, Kanye West – Good Morning, Kings of Leon – Red Morning Light, The Offspring – Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).